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Chanthol Oung, a pioneer who refused to ignore the rampant abuse of women and children in her native Cambodia, has arrived at Colby College to share her experience and passion with students and the greater community. As the 2004 Oak Human Rights Fellow at the Oak Institute for the Study of International Human Rights, Oung will present a lecture, “The Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center: How to Protect Women from Sex Trafficking, Rape, and Domestic Violence in a Failed State,” on Thursday, September 23, at 7 p.m.
As a young law graduate in the early 1990s, Oung was struck by the number of women and children who tried to escape their abuse but were turned away when they sought protection. She remembers them running through the streets, banging on doors and being ignored. Not even the police would help these victims, she said. “I felt something wrong in the system, in the society.” Oung founded the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center in 1997. Today, the center helps hundreds of women and children annually through intervention, shelters, legal advocacy, vocational training, community education and more.
Oung’s work to change the system and culture that tolerated abuse of women is seeing results. Today, women who leave their abusive husbands and children who escape from brothels have a safe place to go. The center has rescued hundreds of victims of trafficking and returned them to their families. Through community education the culture is beginning to change. People now talk about the abuse instead of pretending it doesn’t exist. Cambodia has no specific law on domestic violence. Now, a law prohibiting domestic violence is in the process of being passed.
Oung is the seventh Oak Human Rights Fellow, following other activists who risked their lives on behalf of child laborers in Pakistan, civil society in the Democratic Republic of Congo, indigenous and peasant groups in Colombia, and women and children war victims in Kosovo, among other causes.
The one-semester fellowship was established by a 1998 grant to Colby from the Oak Foundation to allow a front-line human rights practitioner to take a sabbatical for research, writing and teaching as a scholar-in-residence at Colby. In addition to the fellowship, the Oak Institute supports human right lectures and other programs on the campus. To learn more about the Oak Institute visit its Web site at www.colby.edu/oak.